In a 2009 interview with Wired magazine, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said: “…do you think search is a solved problem? … we do not. We think there are many, many things that can be done to improve search. Would you like to be able to say to Google, ‘What should I do tomorrow?’ or ‘Where are my car keys?’ We’re just at the beginning of answering the really hard questions. We’re good now at cataloguing, indexing stuff that’s already been written. But what about meaning, what about understanding real intent? These are very, very hard problems, and search is the way to access those.”

Librarians tend to see Google as a threat, a rival, a menace, a danger. Only rarely do we appreciate Google’s successes in information retrieval, and many goals we share with the company. Google is the most successful cataloguing organization in history. Attempts to play off Google against librarians (see this reductionist polemic by Phil Bradley) are a mug’s game. Many say that Google makes finding information too easy. That sounds like the textile workers who complained that spinning frames and power looms produced cloth too quickly. History has not looked kindly on the Luddites.

The interview had scarcely begun when Schmidt  upbraided the journalist as though he were speaking to Bradley: “You’re putting the questions into a negative context rather than looking at it from the standpoint of innovation and growth – which is how we think. Your questions imply an industrial model and a limited model, but that’s not in fact how the world works. And Google is about taking advantage of this enormous opportunity.”


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